Heisenbar, Digbeth

I love a good cooking class; you get to have a day out, eat delicious food, and come away with a load of new skillz.

Last Thursday, however, I went to a cooking class of a slightly different kind; one your mother definitely wouldn’t approve of. I would be joining my classmates in a beat up RV in Digbeth to cook up some meth à la Breaking Bad.

Manned by a motley crew of Birmingham’s best bartenders, Heisenbar takes you on a molecular journey to the elusive “blue meth” via nitrogen infused jalapeños, an adults-only breakfast dish and a shitload of test tubes.

With six cocktails plus two dishes included you get a full evening out for £40, and it’s properly boozy; the next day I felt bad enough to believe I could have been smashing out the meth. Luckily for me, I could tell my boss that I’d been participating in important scientific research; luckily for you, their next events are at the weekend. Limited tickets are available here, so book quickly if you want to get your fix.


Sketch, Mayfair

The world is a bit shit at the moment. The leader of the free world is an orange-faced buffoon, Brexit is going so badly that Africa will soon be sending us aid, and Moseley still doesn’t have a Waitrose. Worst of all, none of it matters anyway because we’re all going to get nuked by North Korea.

So two hours of afternoon-tea-shaped escapism, taken in the Wes Anderson-esque Gallery at Sketch, is well deserved. For a mere *cough* £72 plus service you can be whisked away to a magical millennial-pink land where the only dilemma you’ll face is which tea will best complement your champers. Everything is perfect here, your every wish answered; it’s an alternative reality for those with a large disposable income.

Picture courtesy of Sketch photo gallery

If I’m honest, I was expecting style over substance; delicate instagram-worthy bites with flavour playing second fiddle. Happily, I was wrong. It was without doubt the loveliest afternoon tea I’ve ever had, and packed with skilled work. Bravo, Sketch.

Champagne and tea sorted (essentials first, people), we are presented with our first course. Egg and soldiers by name, but not quite by nature. A comté cheese mornay takes the place of the white in an shell-shaped eggcup, cradling a dainty confit quail yolk. To accompany it come comté soldiers and a mother of pearl spoon of caviar; we are in Mayfair, darling. It’s cheesy and rich and lovely, although I still don’t see what all the bloody fuss is about caviar.

Cake stands arrive next, groaning with an array of finger sized sandwiches on the bottom and topped with two layers of petits gateaux. I won’t list them all for fear of sending you to sleep, but I must tell you that the coronation chicken sandwich is outstanding. We rave about it to the extent that we are brought another full plate. The petits gateaux are truly fantastic, in particular a delicate choux finished with redcurrant cream and white chocolate, and a deliciously rich chocolate and caramel gauteaux. This is a team who know their pastry.

The food keeps coming. Plump scones appear, accompanied by clotted cream and a choice of fig or strawberry jam. They are quite possibly the nicest scones I’ve ever eaten. Sorry Mum – yours are second, I promise. We’ve reached the stage where clothes are crying out to be loosened, but still one more round is to come. A slab of pistachio and cherry cake, and one of Victoria sponge. Both are excellent, yet both get abandoned in fear of a Mr Creosote moment.

The bill is, of course, eye watering – not least because I am treating my sister – but one well worth paying for a one-off blissful escape from reality. Until my credit card statement comes, that is.

Find Sketch at 9 Conduit St, Mayfair, London W1S 2XG.

sketch Gallery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Le Champignon Sauvage, Cheltenham

It’s been a good few months for restaurants. Two ones, one two, one three. That’s Michelin stars, by the way, not me trying to start a dubious music career. Yes, my wallet hates me right now, but man have I eaten some good food.

At Alain Ducasse I was introduced to bacon bread; possibly the best invention since, well, sliced bread. Could life get any better than this fougasse, studded with bacon and smeared with butter? Yes it can, actually. Le Champignon Sauvage kicked off affairs with a bacon and shallot brioche which was out of this world. My mum always tells me off for filling up on bread, but I couldn’t resist going back for a second. Okay, and a third as well.

Equally stunning was the walnut and blue cheese cookie that appeared as one of the two canapés; a perfect mouthful of umami and satisfying textures. The squid and cods roe that accompanies it is less endearing, the texture a little too spongey for my liking. A pre-starter of lovage and courgette set cream topped with parmesan, black olive crumb and flax seeds offers up a huge amount of flavour for such a little bowl. It’s brilliant.

We’re dining from the set menu (which, by the way, at £34 for three courses is outstanding value) but I veer onto the à la carte for my starter after spotting a pigeon dish which has somehow been crafted from my very deepest desires. Get out of my head, LCS. Pigeon breast so rare it almost flies into the dining room is joined on the plate by a pistachio pastilla and cherry in a multitude of forms. It’s a roaring success, as is our other starter; a cauliflower and cumin soup with beautiful, warming spice and the inspired addition of homemade Bombay Mix which I openly admit to nicking handfuls of at every opportunity. Whilst we’re on the subject of confessions, Simon, I had a bite of your bacon bread when you went to the toilet. I hope you can forgive me.

I declare my main of pork belly, served with pear and walnut, “the best plate of food I’ve ever eaten”. And that wasn’t just the Blanc de Blanc talking. It manages to be beautifully refined and skilled whilst simultaneously being a plate of delicious comfort food that you want to eat from the minute your eyes spot it on the menu. The pork is perfectly cooked, the pickling delicate enough to add flavour without dominating affairs, and it’s all brought together with a rich, complex sauce that has us close to licking the plate. Rabbit is another beautiful main, with confit shoulder, leg and a sausage packed with flavour and perfect against the sweetness of carrot.

For dessert I head back to pistachio land, this time appearing with raspberry in a tart. To accompany there are candied pistachios, glazed raspberries, raspberry purée and the pistachio ice cream. God I love this place. Apple cheesecake is delicate in flavour and served with a blackberry sorbet that is deep in both colour and flavour. To finish come the most lovely plate of petit fours, which reduce us to squabbling and bargaining over how to split them.

What I love most about Le Champignon Sauvage (and there are many things) is their ability to craft a menu of food that you really, really want to eat; full of cooking which appears simple but is full of complexity and technical brilliance. It’s little wonder that this place has held it’s stars for so many years. It is truly outstanding and I cannot wait to return.

Le Champignon Sauvage is on Suffolk Road, Cheltenham, GL50 2AQ. WEBSITE.

Le Champignon Sauvage Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato